Hurricane Irene, which was later downgraded to a tropical storm, hit New Paltz on Sunday, Aug. 28. The storm wreaked havoc on both our campus and town, leaving us with far more damage than anticipated. While we at The New Paltz Oracle applaud the work of everyone who helped restore normalcy, our experience with Irene proved that there is plenty of room for improvement with disaster relief efforts.
We are grateful our administration was extremely diligent with providing students with updates during the storm via text message, e-mail and posts on the New Paltz website. It kept us informed about the status of the damage caused and possible dangerous situations. We also appreciate that out of the hundreds of towns impacted by the turbidity of the water, New Paltz was the only place that mandated a BoilWater Alert. Of 100 towns and villages throughout Ulster county, ours was the only one to make a suggested measure mandatory…just in case. When it comes to our livelihood, precautions can never hurt. It is respectable that our well being is important to our government
While this may be true, those who decided to institute such an intimidating alert regarding a basic necessity may need to do more research before they do so. As some environmental health and safety officials said, boiling the water would only move water and dirt particles around. Where was the scientific backing to support such a mandate?
We would have like to have known, and we would have liked to have known when the alert was sent out. The messages students received about the alert simply told us how long the boil water notice was in effect, but not why. Rumors ran wild on campus about involving cholera and other ailments, and no one knew just how seriously to take the message. If there was something drastically wrong with our water supply and someone did not take it seriously because they didn’t know the severity of the situation, they could have been very hurt. And on the flip side, we shouldn’t live in fear if we don’t have to.
For the sake of our community, we hope that campus and local officials will continue to communicate with us as extensively as they have – just in greater detail.
Another area our local leaders could improve upon is ensuring that there is enough water for students and residents in times of crises. On campus, students claimed there was not enough supply to meet the high demand. This is a big problem considering this is related to our basic human need for water.
Students were also confused as to where to actually get the water. There needed to be more visible signage around campus as e-mails and texts could get confusing. Of course, NP Alerts are effective and we support all students signing up for them. The e-mails we received about this issue and others were also helpful. But there were a lot of them, and some students may have felt so inundated that they began ignoring these updates. Our inboxes were saturated with storm related messages for week. It was difficult to read and process them all in succession.
Students should not forget that they have a responsibility to their safety, too. If you see a message labeled important, read it. If you are getting alerts sent to your phone when there is a hurricane going on, see what they are about. You shouldn’t even need to be told this. Be diligent, for your own good.
Regardless, communication can still be more streamlined in the future. Hopefully, there won’t be another crushing storm – or worse – any time soon. But even though we felt the effects of severe weather this time around, perhaps this can serve as an opportunity for our administrators and the town and village governments to learn from their mistakes and improve their preparations and processes in the future.